First of all I make no pretence in acting as a learned historian regarding Craftsman and Bungalow architecture, but after 40 years of architectural practice in the San Gabriel Valley I would like to make certain comments as to the unique and significant aspects of these styles which are different and sets them aside from the Craftsman architecture developing in the rest of the country at the turn of the 19th century.
The Arts and Crafts movement began in England with the prolific writings of John Ruskin and William Morris who stressed the virtues of hand made goods as opposed to the machine made items of the industrial revolution. Gustav Stickley in New York was one of the first Americans to adopt the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement shunning the Victorian and Classical style in favor of simple unadorned handmade basic structural forms.
In the Pasadena area the Arts and Crafts style was being adopted by Ernest Batchelder the tile maker and designer, Highland Park’s Arroyo Guild, including William Lees Judson the Stained glass artisan and founder of the USC College of Fine Arts, and of course the architectural firm Greene and Greene that opened their offices in Pasadena in 1894.
The work of Charles and Henry Greene has come to represent the soul of the Craftsman Movement with its simplicity and meticulous attention to materials and detail. Starting with the Gamble House plan, where rooms on the first floor open up onto a terrace and the second floor bedrooms open onto an unscreened sleeping porch. The extension of the living space to the outdoors was a revolutionary concept at the time and could be interpreted as a celebration of our temperate climate sans mosquitoes.
Charles Greene, the prime designer in the firm, was said to be under the spell of Japan. The Asian influence can be seen in the corbelled bracing design of the Blacker House similar to many Japanese temples, the cloud lift which is of a centuries old Chinese design, the use of heavy carved structural members, the integration of building and nature, the extension of beams and rafters beyond the roof eave line or columns and the use of the picture rail above the door window openings around the perimeter of the room. The 6” high by 1” thick member serves to unify the various interior elements of a room such as the doors, windows, fireplace, inglenook and built in furniture. Above the rail is plastered freeze to the ceiling. This also has the effect of making the room seem larger.
The Greenes used several interesting details in wood joinery such as strapping several wood members together with a metal strap and clevis. Wood beams of boards where spliced together with a scarf off set or Z splices and square keepers with all edges sanded round. Perpendicular board intersections where mortised with round peg keepers. Board corners where joined with finger joints rather than a simple mortise. The ends protruded beyond the intersecting face with all edges sanded round. First floor parapet walls used indigenous river rock, quite often with a Clinker (partially vitrified) cap. Hardware and light fixtures had a distinctive Craftsman design which to this day is duplicated and in demand.
The cost of the Craftsman home with its beautiful detailing and the use of many exotic woods were just a little beyond the average home builder’s budget. Thus keeping with some of the same characteristics and techniques of the Craftsman home, a more modest design evolved referred to as the Bungalow.
The term Bungalow evolved from an East Indian hut called a Bangala which was anglicized into the word bungalow. In England the term came to describe compact no frills resort of vacation housing. In America the bungalow came to represent an affordable, practical, fashionable home greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The popularity of the Bungalow movement spanned the teens and twenties and swept various parts of the country particularly trend setting California. The typical Bungalow floor plan started with a generous front porch which could act as outdoor seating area. The front door opened to a living room with a fireplace located along an exterior wall. This room was intended to be the main living area for the family and for receiving visitors. Quite often the living room opened directly into the dining room with a cased or framed opening for visual separation and frequently had a built in buffet. Next was the kitchen with built in cabinets including a cupboard. These kitchens were laid out so that it had enough room for a small informal dining area, a new concept in the kitchen design. To the rear of the kitchen was a screened laundry porch which led to the back yard and garage. Bed and bathrooms were to the side or rear of the forgoing function or on the second floor. The plans generally where compact and quite functional.
Although the above described is quite common there was considerable variation in the style often incorporating classical and Victorian motifs. Southern California was different in this respect with less influence in the traditional style and in some cases influenced by the Mission style. Due to no snow loads the roof has a lower slope with strong horizontal lines. Structural elements were simple and strait forward. Rather than beam or rafter tails having classical or birds mouth profile, they where strait cut with rounded edges and often projected beyond the roof eves or post supports. Parapets, pilasters and fireplace using indigenous river rock was a significant feature of the architecture in the Pasadena area. Large entry porches sometimes extending across the entire width of the house was an endorsement of outdoor California living.
It is difficult to say who was responsible as the major influences in designing the multitudes of bungalows across America. In most cases we really don’t know. Of course there were some instances of custom built one of a kind bungalows attributed to an architect, but such cases are not common. Many of the bungalow designs were the creations of unnamed designers, architects, or anonymous underpaid draftsmen, which were marketed by the use of plan books whose complete plans including details and specifications and were sold by numerous sources such as Sears and Robuck and Montgomery Ward for as little at ten dollars. Another innovation arising from the plan book was complete packages of carefully labeled house parts including structural elements, built in furniture, fixtures and finished millwork all meticulously labeled so that handy home owners could build their own houses for as little of $1500 ordered by mail.
There was no uniformity of style in the plan books they spanned the gamut of architectural influences from Victorian to Classical. Needless to say there was quite a bit of plagiarism between plan books. I personally remember a project where we where designing a remodel to a bungalow. The Cultural Heritage Commission protested that this house was a possible Gustav Stickley original. I found no evidence of this in the city records, but in looking though a plan book offered by Henry L Wilson a noteworthy Los Angeles architect, entrepreneur and publisher in the teens and twenties, I found a house plan and elevations which matched the house I was working on. I called this to the attention of the commission to no avail, they dismissed the information I had gathered from the plan book stating that the house might be a significant copy of a famous architects work.
Our offices are located in South Pasadena home to many Bungalow homes. To the north is Pasadena which is a treasure trove of numerous fine Craftsman and Bungalow style homes. We have done a considerable amount of work in the area as regards to restoring and remodeling these homes. Historically the dining room and the kitchen were separated from the back yard with a utility porch, laundry, half bath, mud room, etc. A common complaint from our clients have is that the house does not face or take advantage of the back yard and the primary family living area is separated from the kitchen. The modern trend is that the kitchen is the social center of the house and opens onto a family room. Our designs take this into consideration. A goal is to have the family room open onto an exterior terrace which often incorporates an arbor or pergola into the design.
The goal should be to seamlessly blend the original design with the new without destroying the character and function of the house. A specialty our office has won several awards in. In order to accomplish this, a designer must understand, appreciate and perhaps love the simplicity, efficiency and the details of the Arts and Crafts movement as a manifest in the American Bungalow.